Israel: Warts and all…but not just the warts

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Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose

Sir Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. Amongst his most famous quotes is a statement he made to the Dutch artist Peter Lely who was commissioned to paint his portrait and was well known for capturing his subjects’ likenesses in the most favorable of lights. In anticipation of his sitting for the painting, Cromwell remarked: 

“I desire you would use all your skill to paint your picture truly like me… but remark all these roughness, pimples, warts and everything as you see me. Otherwise, I will never pay a farthing for it.”

These days, it would seem that many historians, Jewish educators and rabbis have taken much the same kind of approach to Israel education that Cromwell called for. 

We are teaching about the Jewish State with a heretofore unparalleled candor; what we might categorize as unvarnished honesty and truth. And for the most part, I support this orientation as to do less is not only a form of inappropriate censorship, but also an unhealthy setup of our young people who will, without question, eventually be called upon to face and address Israel’s flaws and imperfections. 

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Sadly, however, though most recall Cromwell’s comments about truth telling, they forget the supposed conclusion to what the nobleman had to say, “Indeed, paint my warts, but not only the warts!”

As we prepare to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut this year, I recalled a teaching first shared with me by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and which is recorded in his masterful volume “The Jewish Way” that bears highlighting. 

Greenberg mentions that Professor Joseph Gedaliah Klausner (1874 – 1958), who emigrated to Palestine in 1919 and taught Humanities and Jewish History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, makes mention of how Klausner conceived of the role Yom Ha’Atzmaut should play in the modern Jewish psyche. “For three hundred and sixty-four days of the year we are busy with criticism. We criticize the nation’s priorities, and the nation’s leaders. We count the many mistakes that our leaders and ministers make… But a nation must have [at least] one day in a year that is a real celebration. On that single solitary day, all the prosecutions must cease, and the harsh criticism must stop…”

To my mind, we would be wise to adopt Professor Klausner’s recommendation. Let us take full advantage of this most joyous Day of Israeli Independence by singing, dancing, reciting Psalms of praise and thanksgiving, enjoying delectable Israelis treats and unabashedly celebrating the miracle which is the modern State of Israel. 

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose

Let us, on this special day, refrain from any and all critique and criticism and simply bask in the glow of the great miracle of a Jewish State that serves as a safe haven for the downtrodden, a source of unparalleled innovation and creativity, and unequalled religious and spiritual inspiration. 

As Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook taught at the time of the founding of the modern State of Israel, “This historical event [Yom Ha’Atzmaut] is not merely Reishit Tzemichat Geulateinu, the ‘first of the flowering of our redemption’. It is another step in the process of ultimate redemption itself!” And thus, for this reason alone, we should set aside Hay Iyyar, the 5th day of the Hebrew month of Iyyar, Yom Ha’atzmaut, as a day to be honored and hallowed this year and every year to follow.

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, D.Div., is the Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona.